Back to the Ecology Plexus Page
Back to The Plexus Home Page

The following invited essay appeared in:
Marcot, B. G.  1997.  Of models and management: an anagramic commentary.  Analysis Notes (USDA Forest Service, Washington Office/Ecosystem Management Analysis Center, Fort Collins, CO) 7(2):22-23.
Invited Guest Essay:


Bruce G. Marcot, Ph.D., Research Wildlife Ecologist
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station
Portland Forestry Sciences Lab
Portland OR 97208-3890

15 January 1998

     In a whirlwind of change, the Forest Service has been thrust into an era where models and managers intersect in new, exciting, untried, and sometimes fitful ways.  For the first time, our profession of caring for the land and its people is faced with marrying traditional field experience with new-tech models and computer simulations in an increasingly dizzying arena of public scrutiny, Congressional expectations, internal directives, and litigative actions.  What is the appropriate role for models in this new maelstrom of ecosystem management?  Are models savants, saviors, or servants?  In this essay, I hope to provide a perspective on the appropriate role of models in ensuring long-term stewardship of productive, sustainable, and diverse ecosystems.

     Models, of course, run the gamut from mental abstractions, diagrams of cause and effect, formal mathematical relations, and computer simulations.  Models can be used to organize our thinking, to challenge us to precisely articulate what we profess to know, and to generate new hypotheses to test.  From expert systems to decision trees to neural nets to linear programming, models can aid many stages of management analysis, planning, and evaluation of our activities.

     However, let's be honest,  This is an era of rapily shrinking spaces for making a politically correct decision [an anagram of which is, "is no dice"].  It is an era where some litigants take to task, as plunderers of resources, the decision maker [demonic kaiser].  At the same time, many also view, as keepers of the final fragments of productive ecosystems and biodiversity, the decision maker [come inside ark] as the critical link to maintaining future ecosystems and resources [sore curse].

     It is also an era where some view, as dissociated from real-world problems and concerned mostly with academic questions, the scientist [it's incest].  In this turbulent era of ecosystem management, to its credit, the Forest Service [Service Fret So] is working hard to define the appropriate role of the scientist in matters of management.

     But gone are the days when the lone scientist [in its sect] can work in splendid isolation from management, or when the manager [a German] can serve as sole forestmeister.  The forester [free sort] once had reign over their domain and could apply their expertise unchallenged.  Today, the forester [steer fro] is still at the heart of ecosystem management, but is now joined with an array of disciplines. Some of these disciplines, in part through modeling effects, are seen as constraints on traditional management objectives.  One salient example is the wildlife biologist [soil bigot], whose focus on parts of the ecosystem pull attention away from timber commodities, particularly the decline in the board foot [abort food].  The biological imperative, in fact, has at times forced the agency to focus on quite non-traditional matters, such as more obscure ecosystem processes, and plant and invertebrate management [ant-men game].  Whether the biologist [is too glib] has yanked the agency too fast from its traditional moorings, or whether the biologist [so big toil] simply has helped the traditional forester in the terribly difficult task of seeing forests as full ecosystems, perhaps remains for history to decide.

     As we engage in major ecosystem assessments with increasingly complex databases, what is the role of modeling [mind ogle]?  Traditionally, modelers [seem Lord] may have been viewed as a rather priestly sect within the agency and keepers of abstruse, archane, and irrefutable knowledge.  The computer model became the resources [see cursor] it represented.

     Remember, though, that the modeler [led Rome] can be misled by wrong interpretations of the model; modelers can impart no more meaning to their tools and data than their own real-world experience provides.  Here enters the need for collaboration and cross-training with the field experts.

     And for taking the sometimes costly and difficult steps of model validation.  One can easily simulate [amuse lit] an ecosystem, but meaning falters if there is little empirical connection to real-world conditions.  To validate [avid tale] a model, one can start with comparing model output with the expertise of field-going professionals who know the system well.  But validation should not stop with matching computer outputs with anecdotes and expert testimony.  It takes the tedious and grueling collection of field data to quantitatively, rigorously validate [vile data] a model.  Here, the manager and researcher might collaborate in empirical studies such as those needed for assessing the effectiveness and validity of management guidelines.  Only then can it be known with any reliability whether the reality [arty lie] depicted by the model, and the reality [liar yet] depicted from personal anecdotes and experience, truly fit the real world.

     Validation is an important activity for knowing, in particular, if a demonstration study and a resulting model prototype [top poetry] is merely a quixotic elaboration of what we wish to be so.  Validation can help guide the prototyper [pretty poor] to substantially improve the initial model.

     So what does the future hold for a more productive collaboration among foresters, biologists, managers, decision makers, scientists, and others in the interdisciplinary pantheon, and particularly for the modeler?  For one, economics [cosmic one] might not be seen as the primum mobile, the ultimate engine that spins the ecosystem [see my cost].  Economic models may more usefully forecast [fear cost] social effects of management actions by explicitly accounting for long-term, intergenerational equity and conditions.

     The potentially ailing future is ameliorated by how we can most cleverly analyze and conduct our business of resource [cure sore] stewardship [shrewd is apt] here, now, under a collaborative and adaptive [via adept] management approach.  Under ecosystem management, researchers of all walks can help managers define new concepts, questions, and solutions through simulation modeling [adult mini neologism].

     One example has arisen in the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project currently being conducted by USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management.  That is the tending to ailing forests of the interior western U.S.  In this case, models have aided forecasting [strange foci] future conditions of forests that have been unravelling from intense conditions of drought, insects, and disease, exacerbated by decades of high-grade logging and fire supression.  Such conditions have been modeled not only as forest conditions and their commodity outputs, but also as secondary effects of the accelerated spread of exotic plant [toxic planet] species.  To steer this biological system -- and there is no one simple set of management directives that will solve this for all forest types, of course -- to more sustainable conditions, timber production has been modeled as focusing on potential widespread thinning of timber [be trim] and fuels reduction [useful doctrine] instead of boardfoot commodity production.  We just need to remember that although we might reach an ecosystem management goal by such activities, they themselves are only tools and not the goal.  The goal is to restore or maintain ecosystem integrity.

     As ecosystem-level assessments have gained ground, perhaps the appropriate scale of resolution within which to truly join interdisciplinary forces is the landscape or basin.  In this context, scientifically credible analyses can be made to ensure that desired future conditions remain sustainable [salute basin].

     And, finally, models and their databases are becoming quite more democratic as they are made more user-available and user-friendly within public resource management agencies, and as they are distributed on the local web site [wise bet].  Ecosystem modeling in the near future will become more participatory and scrutinized, at once guiding and forcing difficult resource decisions within the Forest Service [Force Its Serve].  Here's to the longevity of modelers and resource professionals [fossil persona]!

Back to the Ecology Plexus Page
BACK to The Plexus Home Page